Skip to main content

Full text of "Daumier: paintings"

See other formats



l r [)()K PUBLISHING ( O. 

Property of 
The Hilla von Rebay Foundation 




D E L ' A R T 






B Y 





Although Daumier's work may at times 
appear to be limited to its period and to the 
story that it tells, it does in fact extend beyond 
both his century and even his native country. 
It is entirely devoted to man, to that frail 
mechanism activated by complicated springs 
and to the intrigues which agitate them, right 
up to the day when they wear out and break. 
>X'hat is sq admirable is his ability to translate 
the heroic in the average man, employing such 
simple means, and without making use of what 
we are in the habit of calling great emotions. 
How often a creator wishing to honour his 
subjects seems to empty them of all their sub- 
stance. Daumier studies his models so closely 
that we can hear their hearts beat and observe 
their reflexes. No art is quite so magnificently 
wordly and yet so resigned. He paints what he 
observes in his fellow beings and in himself— a 
series of misadventures from beginning to end 
shows us our destiny as human beings. 

His extraordinary memory, while liberating 
him from textual imitation, allowed him to 
attain what is universal. Great in portraying 
the commonplace, he transforms an anecdote 

into a drama. Whether he is painting or draw- 
ng — and in his case painting was still drawing — 
everything is in movement. When he portrays 
The Robbers and the Donkey, not only the inter- 
locked characters, but even the trees and the 
clouds join the third robber in his flight. Alone 
with Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Fragonard, Tiepolo 
and Goya, Daumier with the fewest of strokes 
crystallized a world in perpetual flux, a world 
which seems to know no form of rest. But the 
agitation which he suggests is not shown to the 
detriment of the general balance, as so often 
regrettably happened in many of the works of 
the Romantics. Each shape keeps its own 
place and weight, even though it could so 
easily be destroyed by the sequence. 

There is no trait, even the most pathetically 
human, which he does not have the courage to 
record. Lying, envy, selfishness and old age 
grin in his chiaroscuro; but such is the power 
of his compositions that we can quite easily 
forget the chosen pretext, merely in order to 
admire shapes in action. Heroic lines, so 
obviously picked out from tumultuous reality, 
the splendid contrasts of light and shade and, 
in the very midst of movement, supreme 
balance — there they appear in the plastic sphere 
as yet another aspect of Daumier's great wisdom. 

The recognition which Daumier's friends 
offered him in 1878 at the Durand-Ruel 
Gallery a year before his death, the 1900 

centenary, I first and courageous rehabilitation 
of the artist, and the retrospective show at the 
Book des Beaux -Arts were hut distant memories 
when, in 1934, the Orangene Museum decided 
to fulfil ? long awaited wish by organizing an 
exhibition of his works. This was daily 
becoming harder and harder, as by that time 
Germany and then America, more far-seeing than 
France were acquiring a majority of Daumier's 
pictures. It was a difficult exhibition because 
no master, excepting Courbet, had been more 
imitated and distorted. The judgement of the 
public had begun to be led astray by the number 


hoymans Museum, Rotterdam. 

of fakes. This was so to such an extent that 
even some experts had been taken in, and 
especially so as many painted sketches sold after 
Daumier's death for a song had later been 
"finished". It was necessary to purify the 
vision, to assemble together the best, and to 
prove what justified the admiration that a Manet, 
a Cezanne or a Degas had, not only for the 
draughtsman but also for the painter. 

We agree that Daumier is above all a draughts- 
man and that when he painted in oils he used the 
techniques of drawing. The closer he remained 
to black and white, the greater he was. Sure of 
himself when he had to organize a composition 
of lights and shadows, he was at times troubled 
by the use of colour. He never stopped 
complaining to his friends of the difficulty he 
had in finishing a picture. The truth was of 
course that he was ahead of his time, and his 
contemporaries understood him no better than 
they did Delacroix. Starting often with a 
tracing, a squared-off sketch done in pencil or 
chalk, he struggled on with thick material — a 
somewhat slow battle for one with such a fiery 
temperament. He conducted with sublime 
arbitrariness these vast simplified partitions, 
ignoring local sound in order to exalt the density 
cf the atmosphere, the essential volumes always 
in movement, even when concerned with 
static objects. But colour often got in his way. 
He resisted it, as one would an intruder about 
to break into one's house. One then saw his 
strong hand using a brush as if it were a chalk 
or a pen, losing his temper with the- temptress 
and stressing the outlines, the life of each plane 


and each fold of flesh as well as fold of ground. 
To tragedy — his daily companion, so free when 
working on stone or on a blank sheet - and to 

the wry faces pulled by his characters are min- 
gled convulsions even more worrying. They 
are those of a god who suffers when venturing 
into a world where his orders are not immedia- 
tely carried out. 

One of the chief interests of the Orangerie 
exhibition was that it allowed one to define the 
evolution— a fairly relative one in fact— of his 
pictorial technique. No critic had been able 
to do this before. We possess a few landmarks 
which help to date his works, in particular The 
Republic, a sketch which was not followed by 
any commissions, The Riot, The Family on the 
Barricades, The Emigrants, all painted about the 
same time (1848) that he was obsessed by the 
Revolution. Also The Miller, his Son and the 
Donkey (1849 Salon), Don Quixote going to the 
Gamaches Wedding (1850 Salon), Nymphs pursued 
by Satyrs (185 1), and The Washerwoman (1861), 
a canvas which was found in his studio at the 
time of his death. Nothing, however, proves 
that the dates when these works were exhibited 
coincided with the year in which they were 
painted. Do any of his youthful canvases exist ? 
One of the earliest, The Dog Clipper on the Pont- 
Neuf, has disappeared, as has the copy which 
he is said to have done around i860 of The Fair 
by Rubens, a masterpiece which he admired 
above all else. We prefer not to attribute to 
him as they are not so typical Notre-Dame seen 
from the St. Michel Bridge and the Self Portrait in 
the Musee Calvet painted around 1830. It 

would seem in any case from 1848 on and more 
particularly towards i860 that Daumier was less 
taken up with lithography and returned to paint- 
ing. As a matter of fact, it was then when he 
was more intimately connected with Corot and 
Daubigny that he was taught these fluidities 
and modulations, as well as that transparency of 
pigment to which we owe such masterpieces as 
The Connoiseur in a Great Coat, in the Esnault- 
Pelterie collection, or its variation in the Musee 
de la Ville de Paris. This is where we can 
admire what is most lasting in Daumier's 
painting. In these static compositions, where 
even the atmosphere is contemplative and where 
despite the pathos of the lighting a sort of peace 
takes hold of the background, the artist was able 
to master his impatience and frenzy. These 
were inherent to the subjects he wished to paint; 
in order to, catch in full flight an attitude or an 
expression, to portray anger, pursuit, struggle, 
chaos or fear, he was pushed into speeding up 
his output, concentrating on form and mimicry 
while running the risk of making his colour 
heavy. Nevertheless, what triumphs Thieves 
and the Donkey, The Drama, The Fugitives, Don 
Quixote Galloping on the Plain are ! Compared to 
these canvases, the movement in Delacroix 
seems practically at a standstill. 

Many compositions manage wonderfully to 
unite the rhythm of a character frozen in a pose 
to that of one or more figures in action: for 
example, Second or Third Class Carriages, Omnibus 
Interiors, Waiting Rooms, Chess or Draughts 
Players, The Circus Players at Rest, and numerous 
scenes inspired by the theatre, e.g. Crispin and 


Scapin and The Swindlers in the Louvre, and The 
Hypochondriac. The circles which support the 
masses without stiffening them appear a justifi- 
able convention. They in no way destroy the 
general harmony, but reinforce the balance of 
the composition, as with Barye or in early 

Elsewhere, whether the use of tar destroyed 

this balance or whether the artist wished t<» 
underline too violently the contrast between the 
values and used those luminous patches which 
Poraifl was later to parody, we find ourselves In 
the presence of pictures whose lay-out and power 
of expression equal those of the finest drawings, 
but are too hastily done. Despite the beauty 
of the golds and muted greys, the brush which 
might have been merely a stick feverishly dipped 
into black, white, red, blue or umber forgets to 
use any transitions. Canvases such as these, 
more and more monochromatic, can be compar- 
ed with the hallucinating pictures with which 
Goya in his old age covered the walls of the 
Quinta del Sordo. 

Many remained as rough sketches: The Burden 
(pi. n), The Pierrot and bis Guitar, Sane bo Pan^a 
beneath a Tree (Reinhart Collection), The Man 
with a Rope, slso known as The Dauber (pi. 10), 
and Mother and Child (pi. 15) are sketches of 
genius hastily thrown together, sublime recrea- 
tions between two lithographs. They must be 
unreservedly admired for what they are and for 
what they promise. We can compare this tired 
Titan with the unrestricted geniuses such as 
Gericault at his peak. Although they are 
complete in their temporary state, imagine what 
these paintings would have been had they been 
finished. Daumier, having never stopped 
developing, tried to observe with a sculptor's 
eye, making use of ever more elliptic means and 
subordinating, as did Rembrandt towards the 
end of his life, all the pleasures of colour to the 
irresistible fatality of the drawing. 

When the Daumier vogue was at its height, 
water colour, an intermediary process between 
drawing and painting, had ceased (thanks to 
Gericault, Delacroix and Barye) to be an 
"English speciality". But practically only 
Gavarni and Henri Monnier had, following 
Rowlandson, harnassed the method to humorous 
art. A few collectors suggested to the litho- 
grapher who had done The Conjugal Habits, 
Parisian Emotions and People of Law that he 
return to these subjects which had contributed 
to his fame and do them again in water colours. 
He was advised to make things " less ugly". He 
applied himself and lost none of his power. As 
in his oils he used only a limited number of 
colours— ochres, browns, blues and reds — 
reinforced or surrounded by pen strokes. The 
base continued to play the essential role. 
Although he attempted to control his violence, 
his temperament got the upper hand and one 
recognizes the lion's claw. 

The less satirical his water colours were, the 
more powerful was the result. The Collector 
in his study immersed as in a dream in the 
greyness of his engravings and marbles, The 
Pork Butcher (pi. 8), The Barrel Organ (pi. 9), 
a Scene in the Palais de Justice, or The Pit of the 
Come'die-F ran false impose themselves as marvels 
of solitude and austerity. But the taste of the 
day quite naturally was attracted to more amiable 
and anecdotic pictures. His compositions, 
however, he treated practically as monochromes, 
lit up only by touches of ochre and blue, or 
barely accentuated drawings such as In Camera 
(pi. 2) which, by their lightning abbreviations 

and economy of means, are much finer than 
the water colours on which he had to waste 
time on minute trirles essential in order that 
his work might be considered first class. 


1. LAWYER READING. 1 843- 1 846. R. Buhler 

Collection, Winterthur. 

2. in camera, about 1 856. Statens Museum for 
Kurt st, Copenhagen. 

3. chatting, about 1850. Mesdag Museum, The 

4. the beer drinkers. F. and P. Nathan 
Collection, Zurich. 

5. ADVICE TO A YOUNG ARTIST. 1855-1860. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington. 


Musee des Beaux-Arts de la Villi de Paris. 

7. the ON-LOOKERS. about i860. Private col- 
lection, l.'.S.A. 

8. THE PORK BUTCHEK. 1856-1860. Oskar 

Reinhart Collection, Winterthur. 

9. THE BARREL ORGAN. ABOUT i860. Muse* des 

Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris. 

10. THE MAN WITH THE ROPE. 1860-1862. 

Museum of Art, Boston. 

11. the burden, about i860. Private collection, 

12. the washerwoman. 1861. Louvre Museum, 

13. don Quixote, about 1 868. New Pinacothec, 


1 867-1 868. Private collection, Paris. 

15. mother and child, about 1869. Emil 
G. Biihrle Collection, Zurich. 



H Marx, Claude-Roger 
rwoM Tudor Publishing- l^^V 
iff* Marx? Cfaude-Roefer Rebay 
I D2U York, Tudor Publishing, 
i395 1962. 


(Volume numbers in brackets) 

BRAQUE I906-I92O (14) 

buffet Paris (36) 
cezanne Landscapes (13) 

CHAGALL I909-I918 (27) 
CHAGALL I918-I939 (28) 

klee Magic Squares (6) 
klee Figures and Masks (34) 
lautrec At the Circus (5) 
lautrec Moulin Rouge (16 

MANET 1858-1871 (41) 

matisse " Fauve " Period (2} 

MATISSE I9H-I930 (43) 

From the Beginnings up to 
T'ang (37; 

Five Dynasties and Northern miro 1 924-1 940 (31) 
Sung ($8) 

Southern Sung and Yuan (39) 

Ming and Ch'ing Periods (40) 
daumier Paintings (42) 
degas Dancers (4) 
degas Women dressing (17) 
dufy At the Races (12) 

miro 1940-1955 (32) 
modigliani Portraits (10) 
modigliani Nudes (18) 
mondrian Paintings (15) 
picasso Blue and Pink Periods (3) 
picasso Cubist Period (11) 
picasso Papiers colles (30) 


The Arezzo Frescoes (9) 
Renoir Children (19) 
Renoir Nudes (26) 
utrillo Montmartre (7, 
utrillo Churches (29) 
van gogh Aries. Saint-Remy (1) 
From Sesshu to Ukiyo-ye (23) van gogh Auvers-sur-Oise (8) 
Colour Prints (24) velasquez Infantes and Infantas (33) j 


Tarquinia Frescoes (44) 
gauguin Tahiti (20) 
goya Portraits (25) 
gris Still Lifes (35) 


Religious Art (21) 
Handscrolls (22)